More Than Labor Day
For 123 years, the United States has paused and celebrated Labor Day. Officially in 1894, Congress declared a legal holiday on the first Monday in September. This year, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 5th and because of the actual date, to me, it’s much more than Labor Day.
In 1907 or 98 years ago, Dwight B. Johnson was born on September 5th. If you “google” his name, you don’t find much. He’s number 16 on the list of the Oldest Living Graduates from the United States Military Academy, West Point. A graduate of the class of 1932, D.B. Johnson achieved the rank of Major General in the United States Army and retired from his service to the United States during the 1960s. It’s been my privilege to accompany General Johnson on three different trips back to West Point (two class reunions and a separate trip). My father-in-law is one of the most unassuming and humble men that I’ve ever met—yet a true American hero and someone I’m privileged to call Dad.
Several years ago, I was writing a short biography of the great evangelist, Billy Sunday. While I’ve watched some films of Billy Sunday preaching on the sawdust trail, I’ve only met one person who ever saw him in person—D.B. Johnson. I told Dad about my book project on Sunday and he said, “Billy Sunday. I saw him when I was a kid.” Yes, at the age of four, Dad went to one of these large crusades in Chicago. It made the history books spring to life for me.
On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, D.B. Johnson was teaching at West Point. He served on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines at the end of World War II. On the wall of Dad’s room is a photograph of General MacArthur with his personalized signature. Serving his country with distinction, during one of his last assignments, D.B. Johnson commanded the U.S. troops in Taiwan. Each week, Dad met with Chiang Kai-shek, the first president of Taiwan. Until her passing a few years ago at the age of 105, Madam Chiang Kai-shek sent Dad an annual desk calendar where he faithfully recorded his different appointments. He is a part of living American history—a person who has met Presidents and many dignitaries throughout his life.
Yet the story I want to tell isn’t about those aspects of Dad’s life. About two years ago, his health declined to the point Dad moved into a fine assisted living facility. We’ve visited him many times since that day. Once one of the young workers stopped us and told us, “Your dad wants to know my name. I’ve worked here for years and none of the other residents asked about my name—but your dad cares and calls me by name.” It’s one of the most significant steps you can take for anyone—to learn their name and use it. It’s a lesson that Dad learned years ago and continues to practice today.
We are amazed at Dad’s positive spirit. He has many things going against him physically and it’s a miracle for Dad to reach his 98th birthday. The milestone confounds the doctors and others who predicted it would never happen—yet it did. Why? No matter what happens around him, Dad has always had a positive outlook on life. That quiet joy and upbeat nature has been a hallmark of his life and his relationships with others. It’s a characteristic to celebrate on Labor Day and on his 98th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad. We are honored to be with you and celebrate your birthday. As God wills, may you have many more birthdays.